It’s not the Superbowl but for many fans, this week’s NFC Championship game is just as important. A good deal of us knew that the 49er’s road to earning a 6th ring this season would most likely have to be through the Seahawks, one way or another. This division rivalry has been relevant for a long time, but the fuel was reignited in recent years when Pete Carroll and Jim Harbaugh received NFL contracts. These two have a history of being rival coaches at the collegiate level, as Harbaugh was at Stanford from 2007-2010 and Pete Carroll was at USC from 2000-2009.
Jim Harbaugh has a regular season record of 36-11-1, and is 5-2 in the playoffs. The 49er’s won the NFC West in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, Harbaugh and the 49er’s finished the regular season 13-3, but fell short in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants 23-20 in OT. Last season the 49er’s finished 12-4, beat the Packers and the Falcons in the postseason, but could not capitalize in the Superbowl against the Baltimore Ravens, losing in a final score of 31-34.
Ever since Pete Carroll returned to the NFL and joined the Seahawks organization, they have experienced an abundance of success as well. In 4 regular seasons Carroll has a record of 38-26 and is 3-2 in the playoffs. They won the NFC West in 2010 and 2013. In 2010, the Seahawks were downed by the Chicago Bears in the NFC Divisional match-up, 35-24. Last year they lost to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC divisional playoff game 30-28.
In the off-season following last year’s Superbowl, the media immediately began to hype the division rivalry between the 49er’s and the Seahawks as much as possible. We saw Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson get several endorsements and commercials. (Even one together) Both teams had great odds at winning the Superbowl this year, and the two young QB’s were coming off of hot seasons as first year starters. In an interview from December 6th 2013, Harbaugh was asked “Are you glad it’s not just about you and Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll anymore, that it’s about the players and the franchises?” He responded “Was it ever? It’s about what it’s supposed to be about – two good football teams.” Maybe Harbaugh was downplaying it a little – maybe not. But to the public, it has arguably been the biggest rivalry in sports as of recent.
In week 2 of the regular season, the 49er’s traveled to Seattle and lost by a score of 29-3. However, in week 14 the Seahawks went to San Francisco and the 49er’s won 19-17. We can consider so many different things that may influence the winner of this week’s NFC Championship game, but I truly believe that the 49er’s defense must stop Marshawn Lynch if they want the W.
In the past 4 meetings, Lynch has gone for 384 yards and 4 TD’s. In the 2 games San Francisco won over Seattle, they held Lynch to 1 TD total. In the 2 games that they lost, he had 3 TD’s. I don’t actually believe that solely the number of Marshawn Lynch TD’s will determine whether or not San Francisco wins, but shutting down the run will be one of the key focal points to getting the victory this weekend. If that happens, the 49er’s will force the Seahawks to be a more one-dimensional offense and can possibly create more defensive stands. Beating the Seahawks in Seattle is almost an unthinkable task, but the Arizona Cardinals overcame that feat just weeks ago during the regular season.
When Bruce Arians was asked about the Cardinals’ victory in Seattle, he said “I thought stopping the run was huge in that game. We wanted to win both lines of scrimmage, and I felt like our defensive line stopped them pretty good. And our third-down conversion rate was outstanding on defense, getting off the field.” Arizona jumped on Seattle early in that game and never let up. I think that has to be a big part of San Francisco’s game plan, given their last two visits. Hopefully this contest will be the competitive championship game that the whole world has been waiting for, and not a blowout like the last two. I have confidence that San Francisco will put it all out there Sunday afternoon, and their hopes of making a second Superbowl appearance in 2 years are still alive as ever.